Bug Week

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Bug of the day — Psocids

We were going to just call these bugs “booklice,” but it seemed unfair to use a common name when these little guys and gals are so closely associated with intellectual pursuits.

Have you ever opened a book and seen a teeny, tiny yellowish object running across the page? Chances are that was a booklouse, an insect in the Psocid family, part of the Psocoptera order.

(Psocid is pronounced “SO-sudd,” by the way.)

There are many species of booklice and because they’re so small, we’re going to treat them as though they were completely interchangeable.

Booklice are not lice at all. They don’t bite, sting, or vector disease. What they do is eat fungi, decaying plant matter, and maybe, once in awhile, the glue or other chemical components in old books.

The main reason we humans see them in books is that books are often a good place for these bugs to forage for fungus and

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such, particularly if the humidity in your home is a little high, promoting mold growth on the paper pages of your dusty tomes.

With that in mind, the easiest way to discourage booklice is to lower the humidity level in your home, perhaps by using a dehumidifier.

Psocids also known to infest dry, stored foods, such as flour, oatmeal, beans and nuts, but again, high humidity levels play a big role. (As does accessibility – it’s a good idea to keep dry foods in tightly sealed containers, to keep out booklice, flour beetles and a whole host of stored-product pests.)

Speaking of big, a big booklouse might be one-sixteenth of an inch long. That’s really small. The indoor species that we see in books typically don’t have wings, though there are other Psocids (called “barklice”) that live outdoors and do have wings. You may have seen them on trees – barklice don’t look anything like booklice, despite the similar names.

If you look at a booklouse under magnification, you’ll see that it bears a general resemblance to a termite. But unlike termites, booklice aren’t not social, don’t build elaborate nests, and pose no threat to your home.

And, unless you have an incredibly severe infestation, they’re not likely to pose any threat to your books, either.

You can read more about booklice at this EDIS document from UF/IFAS.